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Michael Gow's play is set in 1967. It is the end of the year. The place is Australia. The suburbs of Sydney and the New South Wales beaches are the prominent locations. Throughout the play, the characters react to the personal consequences upon their lives caused by the social changes and issues that produced the conflicts that compel them to act as they do.
In the 1960s, Australia, like every other Western country, was hit hard by the social and military upheavals of the decade. Australia was overtly pro-American Vietnam involvement. Some Australians took up the counter-culture protests against the war along with the representatives of the antiwar movements in all other countries. The division this caused in Australia was the same as in America and elsewhere in the West.
Australia was involved in Vietnam for a decade ending in 1972. During this time, 500 Australian military personnel lost their lives and 3,000 were wounded. In comparison to American casualties, this figure is modest, but to the personnel and families directly affected by these numbers, they were anything but modest. The effects of this social conflict is one of the greatest themes in Away. Other themes are the sexual revolution, brought about by the introduction of birth control pills; waning Christian beliefs in the wake of the aftermath of two world wars; and changing values and lifestyles resulting from newly emergent economic prosperity and consumerism coupled with a surge of European immigrants.
Away is written in five acts in the style of a Shakespearean play. In fact, Gow employs significant allusion to Shakespeare's plays, namely King Lear, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest. According to Valerie Sutherland (see link), Act One present the orientation; Acts Two and Three, the conflict, with the climax coming at the end of Act Three; Act Four, with a brief portion of Act Five, presents the resolution; and Act Five "rounds out themes and returns to the familiar school setting of the opening scene" (pg. 17).
Other themes include going away and (the ultimate going away) death, a theme which is pointed to by Tom’s opening line in Act One, Scene Two: “You going away tomorrow?” At one point, Coral asks whether or not it is “better for them to die like that? Looking like gods?" Another is the tightly related theme of reconciliation, as families and individuals must come to grips with the effects of social conflicts. Along with Australians' newly emerging social values, attitudes, and beliefs, another theme is emotional baggage. This has a powerful physical symbol in the physical baggage that the families take with them on their holiday vacations.
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